When I lived in Italy years ago for my post graduate studies, I had an opportunity to visit a couple of Italian families, one in Piemonte and another one in Puglia. My Italian was very bad (and still is), and I don’t know how I even communicated with them. Fortunately however, I do remember this amazingly tasty meals they served for me. From what I understood, at both families, they didn’t prepare anything special but something they would eat on a daily basis. Still, it blew my mind and made a strong impression on me. I loved watching the Italian mammas cooking at their cozy kitchens, infused in this delicious aroma from the food in the making. They tried to explain every little detail to me, who was vigorously taking pictures and taking notes, but I probably got less than half of what they tried to convey. Nevertheless, I remember the scenes very fondly and the warmth I felt. I often use the mamma’s recipes to this date, feeling grateful how incredibly lucky I was to have an experience like that.
Fast forward to the present Tokyo, my daughter and I were visiting our dear friends’ house for a play date one Sunday afternoon. The lovely host suggested that we make Gyōza, Japanese-adapted Chinese dumplings, together for early dinner. There was another family and a newly arrived au pair from England who was kind of forced into our cooking spree. While the kids were playing and minding their own business, we began to make the dumplings, each of us spontaneously taking a different task to work in a highly efficient manner. We enthusiastically chatted and laughed as we moved about, chopping cabbage in high speed and mixing ground meat with our bare hands. The room started to get filled with the complex aroma of garlic, shiitake mushrooms and freshly cooked rice, with the kitchen counter and floor covered in white flour. All of us gave Gyōza cooking tips to the humble, seemingly overwhelmed au pair, encouraging her to join us for the Japanese cooking routine.
After nearly two decades since my encounter with the sweet & lovely Italian mammas, I seem to have become one myself too, but the Japanese version of it. At that time in Italy I never knew, that being a “mamma” is such a special thing: being surrounded by the people you love, who appreciate the food you cook.
Photos by courtesy of A.C. & M.T.